Mother Nature just opened her door and invited you to come out and play.
There are so many beautiful places that may be new to you, so gather some friends, pack a picnic lunch, lay out a red and white-checkered tablecloth and just because you can — walk barefoot on the grass.
Here’s Mother Nature’s short list of where you can find her. She’s good for the soul.
Historic Gardner’s Basin and Atlantic City Aquarium
800 North New Hampshire Ave., Atlantic City
Aquarium hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (free parking) Aquarium admission: $10 general, $7 seniors, $6 ages 4 to 12, free ages 3 and younger
Gardner’s Basin offers dock fishing, boating, sightseeing, parasailing and dolphin watching cruises. Shopping, waterfront dining, and picnic tables are also on site. The historic Diving Bell that took passengers to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the end of Atlantic City’s Steel Pier from 1928-1978 is at the entrance of the Basin. Part of the Basin experience is the Atlantic City Aquarium. It’s stocked with a variety of sea life native to the waters off New Jersey. Touch some sea creatures, get up close to ocean oddities, Moray Eels, a live coral tank, reef predators, land animals, birds and even a rainforest. So much to do and enough time to do it all.
31 S. Rhode Island Ave., Atlantic City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays to Mondays (September to June); 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with extended hours to 8 p.m. Thursdays (July and August); free parking; dogs on leashes allowed
Lighthouse climb: $7 adults, $5 seniors, $4 ages 4 to 12, $3 Atlantic City residents
At 150 years old with a 228-step climb, the Absecon Lighthouse is 171 feet tall — the tallest in New Jersey. The Lighthouse grounds include a picnic area, keeper’s house, museum, exhibits and gift shop. “Keeper Sleeper” Saturday night sleepovers inside the Lighthouse are available at $45 per person. Advanced registration is required.
Lake Lenape Park West
6303 Harding Highway, Mays Landing
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to one-half hour after sunset
This versatile park offers mountain biking, boating (permit required), camping, kayak/canoe access, cross-county skiing, fishing, a gazebo, hiking, In-line skating, nature trails, a playground, picnic tables and pavilions.
Lake Lenape Park East
753 Park Road, Mays Landing
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to one-half hour after sunset
The amenities in Park East include fishing, new picnic pavilions, softball, volleyball a playground, and an updated catering hall.
Estell Manor Park
109 Route 50, Mays Landing
Hours: 7:30 a.m. to one half hour after sunset (free equipment lending program includes bicycles)
The 1,700-acre Estell Manor Park was the site of a glassworks factory in the 1800’s, then a munitions plant during World War I. Activities include camping, boating, fishing (license needed), picnic pavilions and grills, 20 miles of hiking trails, softball, soccer, volleyball, map and compass courses, fishing, mountain biking, wooden nature trail and historic artifacts.
300 Jimmie Leeds Road, Galloway Township
Hours: 9 a.m. to dusk
The park has something for every age — jungle gyms, Patriot Lake with a walking path, slides, swings, skate park, volleyball, picnic tables and pavilions that can be reserved. The entire park is handicapped accessible. The Galloway Township library is across the street.
Birch Grove Park
1700 Burton Ave, Northfield
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (April to September)
This woodland park covers 271 acres and offers stocked fishing lakes, more than 50 campsites, a playground, trails, snack bar; nature, exercise and jogging trails; picnic tables and grills. See website for Bandstand Concert schedules.
Cape May County Park South — Fishing Creek Wildlife Preserve
130 Bayshore Road, Del Haven
609-886-6273, capemaycountynj.gov/ 1021/Parks
Hours: 7 a.m. to dusk
Admission and parking: Free
The park contains a soccer field, two basketball courts, barbecue grills, picnic pavilion, playground and a habitat for diverse plant and animal life. All amenities are free for personal use with a first come-first served structure for the athletic fields, courts and pavilion. Athletic fields for organized events must be scheduled through the park office.
Cape May Point State Park and Cape May Lighthouse
Light House Avenue, Cape May Point
609-884-2159, state.nj.us/dep/ parksandforests/parks/capemay.html
Hours: Sunrise to sunset
Entrance, beach and parking: Free
Lighthouse admission: $8 adults, $5 age 3 to 12, free age 3 and younger
This 224-acre park is home to the 157-foot high, 199-step Cape May Lighthouse. Activities within the park include hiking trails, surf fishing, picnic pavilions, guided bird and nature walks, children’s programs (call for a schedule of events), an environmental center, beach and boardwalk, a museum and visitor center. The park has a “Carry-In/Carry-Out Program” (bags are provided).